The weekly Bezalel Art Fair is helping rejuvenate downtown, drawing tourists and locals alike.
By GAIL LICHTMAN
”The city center has come alive again” is how one enthusiastic Jerusalemite described the Bezalel Art Fair, a three-month-old endeavor aimed at revitalizing the city’s beleaguered downtown area after more than a decade of decline exacerbated by the intifada and the seemingly never-ending light rail construction.The fair takes place every Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in three locations – on the Bezalel pedestrian mall off Rehov Shmuel Hanagid, on Rehov Schatz between Shmuel Hanagid and King George Avenue and in Gan Sheba – the public park on King George between the Hamashbir department store and the Froumine Building. It offers city residents and visitors alike a day of fun and culture, with live music and stalls featuring quality crafts, jewelry, clothing, artwork, toys, etc. at reasonable prices.The fair is the brainchild of the Lev Ha’ir Community Council, led by Uri Amedi – the man behind the renovation and rebranding of the Mahaneh Yehuda market as a trendy, fun place to shop, dine and spend time. The Bezalel fair is run by Lev Ha’ir in cooperation with the Jerusalem Municipality’s arts and culture department and is part of the municipality’s overall strategy of shoring up the city center, promoting events and opportunities for younger Jerusalemites and broadening opportunities for Jerusalem artists.“The fair is part of our concept to revive the downtown area,” Amedi told In Jerusalem. “It provides artists with a way to support themselves. It helps the city present another picture of downtown – as a place of culture and art and not just one big dig. It is important that the fair is held on a permanent basis and not be a one-time event.”At present, the fair includes some 120 to 150 stalls each week. Ten of the stalls are provided free of charge to nonprofit organizations to help them get their message out. Approximately 7,000 to 10,000 people attend every week.“We hit upon the idea of a fair because we want to create excitement in the downtown area, to make a difference in the quality of life that Jerusalem can offer its residents and guests,” explains Oded Steinberg who, together with Rachel Ben-Moshe, is responsible for the downtown sector on the Lev Ha’ir Community Council. “The fair is a win-win idea. It is the first of its kind to be held in the city center on a regular basis. It promotes art and culture, creates jobs, brings traffic into the area, boosts tourism and is good not just for the participants but also for downtown businesses.”The fair is run by a committee made up of representatives of the municipality, Lev Ha’ir and downtown merchants. The committee decides on content and scope. The physical operation is handled by Yigal Ben-David, his son Hagai and Avi Price.Advertisement“Participating artists are carefully selected to ensure diversity and authenticity,” notes Price.The fair started on a trial basis during Succot 2009 and closed in November. It reopened in its present configuration during Pessah of this year.Sara Nahear of Kiryat Moshe, who made aliya 30 years ago from Detroit, creates “practical handmade pottery with an artistic touch.” She has been exhibiting at the fair for about a month. “I love this fair. Just being here puts me in touch with people from all over Israel and the world. It gives me good exposure, and I don’t have to travel outside the city.”Yael Tal runs Habuali, which specializes in kits and special soap formaking large bubbles. A native Jerusalemite, Tal left the city for TelAviv and only recently returned. “I felt the need to look reality inthe face, even if it is difficult. This fair helps take the edge offthat reality. It creates a great feeling. People walk by happy. Youdon’t see that very often in Jerusalem. We need more events like thisin the city.”Jacob and Yael Pasha of Yaeli Jewelry have been coming from Netanya forthe past two months to participate in the fair. “The center of thecountry doesn’t have the added value of Jerusalem,” says Jacob. “Peoplewho live in Jerusalem don’t really feel the energy of this city. Wehave been provided with exposure to all kinds of people. Also we reallyappreciate those running this fair. The staff cares about theretailers. We have exhibited at a lot of fairs, and this one gives us areally good feeling. So far, our profits have not been very high butthey are increasing from week to week.”Business owners also see the fair as a plus. Gil Barazani openedCafeCafe on the Bezalel pedestrian mall in May. “The fair wasdefinitely a factor in opening in this location,” he says. “It bringsin business and makes a difference in our revenues. We have morecustomers on Fridays than any other day of the week. All our outsidetables are filled, and inside we are also quite full.”Hedva Vandenbrook, founder of the animal welfare group Jerusalem LovesAnimals, uses her stall to promote adoption of dogs and cats from themunicipal veterinary service. “Since March, 60 dogs and several catshave been adopted. All the animals are neutered and have their shots.If someone does not adopt them, they will be put down. So this isimportant in saving these animals.”And what do fair-goers think? Einat, a young woman from GivatMordechai, finds the fair “a special place where you can get differentstyles and special items. Events like this attract and keep youngpeople in the city.”Elana from the Tel Aviv area came with her husband as part of theirvisit to Jerusalem. “We came for the special Jerusalem atmosphere. I amvery impressed. There are many original items at this fair that we havenot seen in Tel Aviv. This is really pleasant, and we would definitelylike to come back the next time we are in Jerusalem.”
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